Labour fears foreign workers exploited; Temporary employees outnumbered immigrants to Alberta in 2006
EDMONTON - Alberta has become one of the first provinces to bring in more people as temporary foreign workers than through Canada's mainline immigration system, the Alberta Federation of Labour says.
The AFL contends that's bad because the province is relying more and more on workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.
The provincial government says it's good because temporary foreign workers are helping to ease severe labour shortage created by the economic boom.
The latest federal figures show Alberta had 22,392 temporary foreign workers as of Dec. 1, 2006. That's 1,675 more people than the number of immigrants granted permanent residency in Alberta last year.
Newfoundland was the only other province to accept more temporary foreign workers than permanent immigrants.
"We're not opposed to people coming from other countries to work in Canada," AFL president Gil McGowan said Friday. "But if they're going to come here, they should have the hope of becoming citizens."
These workers are less likely to stand up for themselves, so some employers take advantage of them, McGowan said.
He said the AFL has heard from dozens of foreign workers who complain employers make wrongful pay deductions, fail to pay overtime and break promises to provide training.
The province should deal with its labour shortage by providing better training for Canadian workers and slowing the pace of oilsands development, McGowan said. He said the immigration system also needs reform.
Lorelei Fiset-Cassidy, speaking for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry, said the temporary foreign-worker program is only for employers who can't find workers in the existing workforce.
"We see help-wanted ads in nearly every storefront and in newspapers across the province," Fiset-Cassidy said. "So we know there is a huge demand that can't be filled with the existing labour force."
She accused McGowan of painting an unfair picture of employers. She said many employers are offering language training as well as housing. "Retention is something employers are very concerned about. Obviously, it's in their interest to treat temporary foreign workers fairly."
Companies increasingly use a provincial nominee program to help foreign workers become citizens, she said. Last year nearly 1,000 workers were sponsored, Fiset-Cassidy said. "We're looking to more than double that this year."
Edmonton Journal, Page B5, Sat July 7 2007
Byline: Duncan Thorne
Keystone pipeline to the United States by 35 per cent, citing strong support from Canadian oilsands producers.
The pipeline will be capable of carrying 590,000 barrels per day (bpd) to Cushing, Okla., when subsequent expansion phases come online in 2010, up about 150,000 bpd.
TransCanada said the expansion was driven by the signing of binding contracts for 495,000 bpd of the total available capacity at an average term of 18 years.
"This commitment from shippers clearly confirms the value of Keystone as a cost-competitive way to link growing oilsands supply to U.S. energy markets," said Trans-Canada CEO Hal Kvisle.
"With this support, we expect to move to the next phase of the project, expanding the pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast."
A public hearing to construct the Canadian facilities for the pipeline concluded June 21. TransCanada said it has also submitted applications for similar U.S. federal and state approvals.
If it gets the go-ahead, construction of the 2,969-kilometre pipeline is expected to begin in early 2008.
TransCanada spokeswoman Shela Shapiro declined to provide cost numbers for the latest expansion beyond the previous $2.8 billion US estimates for the pipeline and Cushing extension.
"We continue to refine the estimated cost," she said.
Keystone is just the latest in a series of pipeline proposals designed to take up Alberta's growing oilsands output.
Last Thursday, Enbridge Inc. filed commercial terms with the national regulator for the $2-billion Canadian segment of its proposed Alberta Clipper heavy oil pipeline.
Enbridge is also filing with American regulators to the build the $1-billion U.S. portion of the project.
Alberta Clipper will see the construction of 1,600 kilometres of new 91-centimetre diameter pipe from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis., where it will trickle down feeder pipes to the Gulf Coast.
Initial capacity of 450,000 bpd will eventually top 800,000 bpd after it comes into service in mid-2010.
On Friday, Enbridge also filed for regulatory approval to build a $300-million extension from Hardisty to Edmonton and expand the capacity of the line to 880,000 bpd to match Alberta Clipper.
The announcements come as Canadian oilsands producers begin to dramatically ramp up output.
Last week, the Canadian Association of Canadian Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said it expects oil production to average 4.6 million to 5.3 million bpd by 2020 due in part to the explosive growth in the oilsands.
Over the same period, total U.S. refinery demand for Alberta oil is projected to increase from about 1.6 million bpd to almost 3.1 million bpd in the same period, or nearly 100 per cent.
Demand for heavy oil is by far the largest of the crude types, necessitating the need for new pipes, the association said in its report.
Greg Stringham, the association's vice-president of markets and fiscal policy agreed the Keystone expansion comes sooner than even he expected but suggested additional capacity will be needed to meet even the base case forecast.
"Even this announcement won't be enough to meet our moderate growth case by 2020," he said. "We may even need more after 2012."
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the province needs more refineries and upgraders -- not new pipes.
He testified as an intervenor against Keystone during the public hearing that closed last month.
His group is concerned there won't be enough bitumen left over to support a domestic processing industry and urged the federal and provincial governments to take steps to encourage value-added processing and jobs at home.
"This (TransCanada's expansion) should be setting off alarm bells with the policy makers in Edmonton," he said.
"We'd rather see half a dozen state-of-the-art upgraders and refineries than five or six new pipelines."
TransCanada shares fell eight cents in Toronto, to close at $36.56.
Foreign worker woes; A federal program is providing desperately needed labour for Alberta employers -- but at a severe price for many workers
Mexican worker Angel Hernandez decided three decades ago he would someday come to Canada, after he saw a street dog gobble up a hamburger.
Hernandez was working in a popular French restaurant in Tijuana when a woman customer asked for a burger, even though it wasn't on the menu. Reluctantly, the French chef made her a thick patty with a bun, and the restaurant charged the young tourist an exorbitant price.
"And later she went outside and offered the special hamburger to the dog," said Hernandez -- now 50 years old, thin and weary-looking, sitting in an immigration agency in Calgary.
The woman in the restaurant told another staff member she was Canadian. And that small act stayed branded in his mind.
"Canadians are generous," he thought.
So last year when Hernandez, then an unemployed carpenter, saw a want ad in a newspaper looking for workers willing to come to Canada, he called the number listed.
It set off a chain of events he says saw him hit with a bill for $10,000 Cdn from the recruiting agency, moved unexpectedly from Vancouver to Calgary, underpaid for weeks of work and eventually left without a job in the most desperate labour market in the country.
Life as a temporary foreign worker in Canada hasn't worked out the way Hernandez imagined.
"It's a nightmare."
Canada Day celebrations and rituals focus on how the country has meant peace and prosperity for generations of immigrants, but another group of newcomers is increasingly -- and dramatically -- shaping the country.
The number of temporary foreign workers coming to the country is growing in leaps and bounds due to Western Canada's severe labour shortage.
While the program used to be about attracting highly skilled foreign nationals and seasonal agriculture workers, the last two years have witnessed dramatic growth in the area of low-skilled workers -- those people in Alberta who are now taking full-time jobs as dishwashers, construction workers, security guards or truck drivers.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the number of foreign workers not expected to have any training for their jobs increased by almost 80 per cent in the first nine months of 2006 compared to the same period in 2005.
Temporary workers are propelled here by a number of factors -- a web of international recruiting companies, increasingly accommodating government rules and businesses crying out for staff, especially those who won't quit on a whim.
Skilled or not, thousands of foreign workers are quietly altering the Alberta landscape with a fierce desire to make it in a rich, industrialized country.
But along with providing help to labour-hungry employers and putting money in workers' pockets, the foreign-worker program is creating confusion, headaches and sometimes misery for some, like Hernandez.
"Is there abuse of foreign workers?
I'm pretty sure there is," said Calgary immigration lawyer Peter Wong. "Is it universal? No, because they don't just stay with you. It's counterproductive to abuse the workers."
But when workers arrive in Canada, their work permits are tied to a specific employer. Other jobs are available, but fresh-off-the-plane workers like Hernandez often don't know where to ask.
"It's not easy because he doesn't know who to talk to," said Carolyn Christison, a partner in recruiting agency International Employment Solutions.
Immigration settlement agencies say confused and worried workers are showing up at their doors across the province in increasing numbers. At the Centre for Newcomers in the city's northeast, staff used to see a foreign worker come in every couple of weeks.
Now it's every week.
Two men, near tears, came in last week and said they had been fired after asking for promised wages at a construction company. Others come in with easier questions about winter clothing or how to change companies. The staff do their best to help, but because foreign workers are not immigrants, centres are not funded to deal with their concerns.
"This is eating up our agency time," said Carol Simpson, manager of employment services at the centre.
Both labour and immigration advocates say these newcomers are second-class workers compared to their Canadian counterparts -- who are not at risk of being punted from the country if they are fired or suddenly unable to work. Immigration centres say temporary foreign workers are much less likely to launch a complaint even if they are being mistreated by bosses, underpaid or not paid for all hours worked.
And increasingly, there are stories of workers being charged thousands of dollars in recruiting fees -- an illegal practice in Alberta. The government said 10 agencies in the province are now under investigation for charging illegal recruitment fees to workers, many of them foreign.
"To respond to a booming growing economy by just flinging the doors open without sufficient controls is another concern," said immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
Lower-skill workers are supposed to be told their stay in Canada is temporary, but many carry quiet hopes -- at times encouraged by recruiters -- they will be able to stay.
"A lot of them are being promised things that realistically would not happen because Canada does not want unskilled workers here on a permanent basis," said Christison.
One goal of her company is to make sure low-skilled workers are told the truth about their circumstances and do not pay recruiting fees, she said. Employers instead pick up the tab.
Wong said perhaps a few hundred will qualify for the permanent residency track this year through the Provincial Nominee Program.
"Everyone wants to stay," said the Calgary immigration lawyer. "When they hit my office, we're careful to counsel (the low-skilled) workers that they shouldn't have that hope, and that the program is 24 months for them."
This fact is a huge disappointment for Tiburcio Ochoa, 48, a Salvadoran hired to work in a hog processing plant in Red Deer. While in Canada, he had to undergo emergency bypass surgery. Ochoa is now on disability insurance and looking for work with virtually no English skills.
But he's had a taste of life here and wants to remain.
"No one wants to be sick," Ochoa said through a translator, noting he will earn perhaps $5 a day back in San Salvador, which is rife with underemployed workers. He said he will never be able to support his family and pay for his medications.
"If I go back to my country, it would be to die."
In Calgary, Hernandez has found a new friend in Bernardino Morales, 27, from a rural area of Veracruz. The two Mexican workers have become united in anger over their working conditions in Canada.
The two men both arrived early this year and quit their jobs in May.
Speaking mostly through a translator at the Centre for Newcomers, Hernandez and Morales say they bought their own plane tickets. The pair both say they had agreements with an agency called peopleMovers, with offices in Mexico, England, Switzerland and Canada.
But what happened in Mexico before the men came here is in dispute.
Hernandez and Morales both say they were only given written contracts, in English, at the airport about a half-hour before their flight departed. The contracts stipulated they would have $10,000 Cdn deducted from their future paycheques for services provided by peopleMovers.
Hernandez took the terms because he was desperate to get work outside Mexico, "where unemployment is generations long."
But Richard McPhee, a spokesman for peopleMovers in Vancouver, said the Mexican office of the agency gave both men Spanish-language written contracts well in advance of their trip, and they agreed to the $10,000 fee for getting the work permits set up -- not for recruitment.
McPhee said the fee is not unreasonable for someone who is unemployed to have a chance to come to Canada, and the fee may also include services to bring the workers' families here. A few workers even end up getting permanent residency status, he said.
"All and all, if the worker comes up and he pays $10,000 and gets a really good job that he could never have at home, and he sends money home to his wife and kids, and then later gets immigrant status, he's probably thinking that's a very decent price," McPhee said.
"If we could lower it, I'm sure that we would."
The Alberta government said Friday that investigators are looking into peopleMovers for not having an employment agency licence in Alberta, and will also examine the $10,000 fee.
However, McPhee said the company is no longer attempting to collect the fee for the Mexican office since the men have quit. He also said the men were never supposed to be in Alberta, and his company does not operate in Alberta.
It appears the workers were moved by the construction company that hired them.
When Hernandez came to Canada, he thought he was going to be working in Vancouver. Ten days after arriving, he was told he would actually be going to Calgary to work. Although he travelled to Alberta by air, he said the briskness of the move made him feel "like cattle" being shipped.
At peopleMovers, McPhee said the work permit issued for the men only allowed them to work in B.C. and it was the construction company that moved them. "We don't know why those guys were in Alberta."
Regardless of the agreement on the agency fees, it was once they were in Canada where Hernandez and Morales had the most troubles.
When Hernandez saw the $10,000 fee on the contract back in Mexico, he says he did a quick calculation in his head. At a rate of $28 per hour, he decided he would be able to afford the $500 payments every paycheque and still send money back home.
What Hernandez says he didn't know was he would still have to pay taxes and Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance contributions. He also claims the employer didn't live up to the terms of the contract he signed in Mexico, and paid him only $22 an hour for his work in Canada.
Both men provided documents showing they were employed by a B.C. construction firm working in Alberta, along with documents showing they were supposed to be paid $28 but received $22. However, the company did not respond to repeated interview requests.
The two men also had various complaints about working conditions, including safety issues and cases of verbal harassment.
They are now living off savings, looking for a new employer that can accept foreign workers and pursuing their case with the provincial government.
"There are good and bad people," said Hernandez. "The common people help us."
Part of the problem is the sheer size of the increase in temporary foreign workers.
Look at the construction workers in Fort McMurray or downtown Calgary, the chambermaids in hotels in Banff, or the truck drivers roaring down Queen Elizabeth II Highway, and you're likely to see temporary foreign workers.
Many are happy. As other Calgarians kick back on Canada Day, temporary foreign worker Kenneth Fang, 28, will be making dinners at a Smitty's restaurant. Working his 1 to 9 p.m. shift, the young cook will earn $11.74 an hour -- about the price of a dinner-sized salad at his restaurant.
"The people are very friendly and they treat us right," the Filipino cook said of his first three months here. "Canada is peaceful. The pollution is not like our country. And I like the weather -- it's not too hot."
But as the number of temporary foreign workers continues to increase across Canada -- last year by about nine per cent -- workers' advocates say so will the number of unaddressed issues.
In Alberta, the stream of foreign workers is increasing at a torrential pace.
The latest figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada have Alberta's numbers increasing by 46 per cent in the first nine months of 2006 compared to the same time period in 2005. In the first nine months of 2006, almost 11,000 temporary foreign workers entered the province -- moving towards the total of 20,000 traditional immigrants for the entire year.
Nobody expects anything but much higher growth for the next 18 months.
"These days, it's never just one. Everyone wants dozens of them," said Wong, whose law firm does the paperwork that allows employers to show they need foreign workers.
"The volumes are so high for employers of all types. We're talking cleaning companies, restaurants, manufacturing, oil and gas sector, construction. The list goes on and on."
Three years ago, the federal government changed its policies to make it easier for companies to bring in lower-skilled workers.
And in February, Ottawa announced those workers can now stay for up to two years
instead of one before returning home for a four-month time-out -- making it more attractive to employers to bring in low-skill workers.
At the same time, there are signals that both the federal and provincial governments -- which both have two departments with some responsibilities for temporary foreign workers -- are examining the treatment of workers.
"We are concerned about all allegations of abuse, mistreatment or wrongdoing. Temporary foreign workers are entitled to the same rights and protections as all Canadian workers," said Lesley Harmer, spokeswoman for Human Resources and Social Development Minister Monte Solberg.
"We are currently exploring ways to more closely monitor employers."
Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry Minister Iris Evans said in a recent Calgary speech that she wants the barriers keeping temporary foreign workers from coming to Alberta to be further relaxed -- but stressed they shouldn't be brought in as "slave labour."
In the wake of the growth of the temporary foreign worker market, Service Alberta is reviewing its rules to see if its legislation works for recruiting agencies and protects employees.
Says Calgary immigration consultant Alan Davies: "There's a tremendous amount of good in the program. But there is some bad."
Attempting to work on that bad side is Edmonton labour lawyer Yessy Byl, who has been funded through the Alberta Federation of Labour to advocate for temporary foreign workers across the province.
Since being appointed in May, Byl has 80 files from workers who say they were mistreated or needed other help.
She is so busy, she is turning down media interviews, said AFL president Gil McGowan.
Especially on Canada Day, McGowan said, Canadians should be questioning the tenets of the foreign workers program.
"If these people are good enough to serve our coffee, build our houses and work on our construction sites, then they're good enough to stay as full citizens."
How many of our parents or great-grandparents would have been able to stay in Canada if they had to contend with the temporary foreign worker program, he asked. The program and its growth creates the potential for a large underclass of workers in Alberta, he said.
"People can come here, work hard and once we're done with them, we'll send them home," he said. "That's not the Canadian way."
Sociologist Michael Haan, who studies immigration at the University of Alberta, believes the increase in the number of temporary foreign workers is the outcome of flawed immigration policy.
Canada's system focuses so heavily on recruiting skilled immigrants it is no surprise that Alberta and Canada are short of lower-skilled workers, Haan said.
"Now, as sort of a Band-Aid fix to this problem, we are admitting lower-skilled workers to fill the gaps."
In general, labour advocates and immigration centres say there's a greater propensity for temporary foreign workers to be mistreated by employers because of the vulnerability that comes with their temporary status.
However, Wong said it's the unethical international recruiters bringing workers to Alberta that provincial and federal governments need to crack down on.
"There has to be something better than the Wild, Wild West."
As for Hernandez, he decided to talk to the media because he doesn't want other temporary foreign workers to go through the same thing as he and Morales have experienced.
And ultimately, Hernandez would like to stay in Canada -- not only because of the work opportunities -- but because he believes the people from all over the world makes this country good and strong.
"Canadians are not just one race," Hernandez said. "There are lots of things to learn."
Calgary Herald, Page B1, Sun July 1 2007
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
EDMONTON - The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld an Alberta law that forbids teachers and other school employees from seeking election or serving as school board trustees.
In an 8-1 ruling Friday, the country's top court found the provincial legislation does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It dismissed an appeal from four Alberta teachers -- three of whom were serving on school boards and a fourth who wanted to seek election -- and the Alberta Teachers' Association.
One of the teachers, Ron Baier of Camrose, called the ruling ridiculous and an infringement of his right to serve as a Catholic trustee.
Baier is principal of Holy Family Catholic School in Waskatenau, part of the Lakeland Catholic School Division. For 15 years, he has been a trustee with Elk Island Catholic Separate Regional Division.
"This is a travesty of justice -- it's absurd, it's asinine, it's unbelievable," Baier said. "How can we stand for something like this?"
Another of the four, Liam McNiff of Sylvan Lake, said the ruling effectively ends his trusteeship with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.
McNiff, who teaches at Lacombe Composite High School in the Wolf Creek School Division, said he is disheartened by the ruling and won't seek a third term in the Oct. 15 school board elections.
"I'm disappointed because I would like to continue out the term and, in fact, I was planning to run for the next one," McNiff said.
"Both of those options are now out, at the moment, if I continue on as a teacher. My option now, if I want to run, is I can ask for leave from the board to run in September, and if elected then I would have to resign (from teaching) in October. It's not a feasible option at this point in time."
ATA president Frank Bruseker slammed the ruling, which he said robs teachers of a vital avenue of political activity.
"What it says is if you're a teacher, it's simply not financially worthwhile to give up being a teacher to go and be a trustee because trustee salaries are just not comparable," Bruseker said. The ATA will continue to lobby the government to change what it sees as "oppressive legislation," he said.
The case focused on amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act passed by the legislature in 2002 after a provincewide teachers strike.
The changes deny teachers and other school board employees the right to run for school board trustee in districts other than those in which they work. Under the amendments, any employee who is elected as a trustee in any school jurisdiction is deemed to have resigned from his or her employment.
Other Alberta legislation, which wasn't at issue before the Supreme Court, already prevents teachers and other school employees from running for office as trustees in the districts in which they work.
The amendments in question began as Bill 205, a private member's bill proposed by then St. Albert Conservative MLA Mary O'Neill, who argued the changes were needed to avoid conflicts of interest on budgets and other financial issues.
Four teachers -- Baier, McNiff, George Ollenberger and Evelyn Keith -- successfully challenged the legislation. At the time, Baier, Ollenberger and McNiff were trustees and Keith was planning a run for office.
The Alberta government won on appeal, after which the teachers appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that the legislation violated their equality rights and interfered with their fundamental right to freedom of expression.
In delivering the Supreme Court's reasons for judgment, Justice Marshall Rothstein noted that the charter protects voting and candidacy rights, but only in relation to the House of Commons and provincial legislatures.
It is not up to the Supreme Court "to create constitutional rights in respect of a third order of government where the words of the Constitution, read in context, do not do so," he said.
Rothstein also said the teachers did not establish that excluding them from being trustees interferes with their ability to express themselves on matters relating to the education system.
The amendments "may deprive them of one particular means of expression," but "school employees may express themselves in many ways other than through running for election as, and serving as, a school trustee," Rothstein said.
He also rejected the teachers' argument that the legislation infringed on their right to equal protection and equal benefit under the law. Section 15 of the charter doesn't protect teachers or other school employees against discrimination based on their occupational status, Rothstein said.
Four judges agreed with Rothstein, while three others dismissed the appeal for different legal reasons. In a lone dissenting opinion, Justice Morris Fish held that seeking and holding office as a school trustee is a "uniquely effective" means for a person to express views on education policy. Fish found the legislation violates the charter right to freedom of expression.
"It is cold comfort indeed for school employees, who are barred from themselves serving as trustees, to be told that they nonetheless remain free to talk to those who can, or to write letters to their local newspapers," Fish said.
The Alberta Federation of Labour had intervener status in the case. President Gil McGowan said Friday the legislation at issue wasn't ever necessary.
"Our position is that effective measures to deal with conflict of interest were already in place," McGowan said.
"From our perspective, the changes were nothing more than a mean-spirited attempt at payback (for the teachers strike.) The changes were aimed at teachers but they ended up affecting all school-board workers, and they were clearly intended to stop those workers from having the ability to participate in the electoral process and flex their democratic muscles."
Alberta Education Minister Ron Liepert wasn't available for comment. But spokeswoman Shawna Cass maintained the position that the amendments were needed to reduce instances of school trustees falling into conflicts of interest.
"Having a full board consider important issues promotes good decision-making, and is in the best interests of all Albertans," Cass said.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the teachers of this province and the ATA to ensure that Albertans enjoy the best possible school system."
Edmonton Journal, Page B5, Sat Jun 30 2007
Byline: David Howell
Many Albertans get prickly at the prospect of oilsands bitumen flowing to the U.S. for refining. And rightly so -- for how can the province make most of its finite resource if low-priced bitumen and high priced refinery jobs go south? Last fall, Ed Stelmach raised exactly that concern when two major exporters, BP and Encana, announced plans for two large-scale export projects. Stelmach likened bitumen exports to selling off topsoil, clearly a bad idea.
As it turns out, more than a dozen U.S. refineries want to gear up to accept bitumen.
Some forecasts say 1.5 million barrels a day will be going south by 2020 -- more than today's entire oilsands production of 1.25 million barrels a day. About one-third of the bitumen produced today is exported.
The crucial first steps to implement in this export strategy are already being taken. This month, the National Energy Board started hearings into the $2.1-billion Keystone pipeline proposed by TransCanada Pipelines to carry around 435,000 barrels of bitumen a day to Illinois and Oklahoma.
Enbridge is also putting together a pipeline proposal, the Alberta Clipper, for U.S.-bound bitumen.
Approval of a new export pipeline is an irrevocable decision about the use of Alberta's oil reserves, and there's been no opportunity for a public discussion about what's at stake for the province.
The proposed bitumen exports, for instance, are already creating thousands of jobs in Texas to renovate aging refineries, for instance. What other opportunities will flow south? A group of Alberta labour unions is trying to raise that red flag at the NEB hearings. The Alberta Federation of Labour says 18,000 upgrading and refining jobs will be lost if the pipeline is approved, as well as the opportunity to build a more diversified economy.
AFL president Gil McGowan asked the NEB to delay its approval until Albertans and policy makers have a chance to address those issues in a public forum. Because once the pipes are in the ground and the billions invested in re-tooling U.S. refineries, there's no turning back. Alberta and Canada will be tied into the "limited role of miner and extractor." "We're at a crossroads and decisions we make now will affect Alberta and Canada for generations to come. We can't afford to get it wrong," said McGowan in an interview.
"I was asked at the hearing what is the right proportion for export and I said that's what the public should be discussing. These are the resources they own collectively." "The public should be setting the course, not just narrow interests of the big industrial players." The NEB sent a message earlier this year that it does not want to consider the labour federation's concerns: "these are matters of broad public policy that are properly under the purview of federal and provincial government," it said in a February report.
Albertans have heard the NEB refrain before. The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board last fall declined to consider Ft. McMurray's request to delay approval of the three giant projects on the same grounds.
Municipal problems coping with boom are not an EUB responsibility.
That's correct, strictly speaking. But in this deregulated environment, Alberta has no public forum for raising these issues around energy projects. There's no discussion of what's an appropriate target for domestic upgrading nor a policy to promote refining in Western Canada, for instance.
Alberta Energy Minister Mel Knight, like his boss, has backed off earlier concerns about selling off the topsoil. Large-scale exports have the advantage of creating a bigger demand for bitumen, says the department. That will help raise the price (about one-third to half of the price of oil) and that in turn means higher royalties.
The Alberta government is content to delegate these difficult decisions to regulatory agencies, or the market. If a proposal for a nuclear power project came forward, would that too be delegated to the EUB? Or how about the issue of water exports? But elected representatives should remind themselves that delegating these tough decisions doesn't make the MLAs less accountable for the impact of these decisions and the direction they take this province.
Edmonton Journal, Tues June 12 2007, Page A16
If this isn't a political slap up the side of the head I don't know what is.
But will Ed Stelmach and the Alberta Tories get the message?
Calgary pollster Bruce Cameron released his latest survey this week. Complete with a headline that screamed "Stelmach stumbles in big cities."
He talked about how the premier's disapproval rating in Edmonton and Calgary has jumped from 15% to 29% since the Steady Eddy days in January when Stelmach was still enjoying his political honeymoon.
After the Cowtown figures are broken out, the picture goes from bad to worse. Cameron noted a "significant and growing discontent" in Alberta's second city where the premier's disapproval rating now stands at 39%.
In Redmonton - where Stelmach's Ukrainian roots were supposed to win back the PC's popularity - the thumbs-down factor doubled from 13% to 29%.
And when Albertans were asked if the Stelmach government was "leading Alberta in the wrong direction," 30% agreed. The same question was put to them in January and only 10% answered "wrong."
In Calgary, 41% said Ed is leading us down the garden path.
This is troubling for the Tories for sure - especially now that the byelection in Ralph Klein's old Calgary Elbow riding appears to be turning into an Ed-a-rendum.
This is not the end of the Tories as we know them. When Cameron asked the crucial "if an election were held tomorrow" question, the PCs still got 47% support province-wide, but were down nine points in Edmonton and a disturbing 19 points in Calgary.
Sadly, Cameron doesn't put a finger on what's bugging Albertans.
But you can bet the Stelmach PCs' growth management blunders rank right up there.
And there was more where that came from yesterday after Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel filed his provocative plan to build the Alberta Clipper big inch oil pipeline from Hardisty to the U.S. Midwest.
This project could hit 800,000 barrels a day if proposed future expansions are built.
Daniel called the application "timely," mainly because of the "growing supplies of crude oil from Alberta's oilsands."
Which sounds like more bitumen and jobs down the pipeline to the States.
It's the thing Ed Stelmach compared to stripping the "topsoil" from a farm when he was on his game during the PC leadership race. But since winning the job, he's done diddly squat about it.
On Monday, crucial hearings begin before the National Energy Board on another job-stealing raw bitumen line to the U.S.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has already branded TransCanada's Keystone pipeline a "devil's bargain."
"Why, we ask," AFL president Gil McGowan blasted in his submission, "should Canadians settle for 17 jobs when they could have 18,000?
"Labour's interest is in keeping industry and good jobs in Canada," McGowan boomed.
Shouldn't that be the government's job, too?
And what applies to Keystone clearly applies to the Alberta Clipper, too.
Meanwhile, the Alberta Tories plan on sending one lowly market analyst to monitor the Keystone hearings.
Another Stelmach government boondoggle blew up right on schedule yesterday when the Fraser Institute released its "business case" for the carbon dioxide "backbone" pipeline from the tarsands to a bunch of old Alberta oilfields like Pembina and Swan Hills/Judy Creek.
This is the magic wand technology first dreamed up by Ottawa Liberal Leader Stephane Dion - but later endorsed by the Stelmach government - to pump oil-sands plant emissions down oilwells to hopefully enhance recovery, and solve global warming, all at the same time.
The price tag going in is $1.5 billion with none of the engineering actually done. So you can bet your mortgage that it will be at least triple that amount.
The right-wing think-tank determined that "current demand is very small."
And no wonder, considering these target oilfields are up to 50 years old, and there will be more than enough COC generated from Edmonton-area upgraders to satisfy that market.
Which led study authors Gerry Angevine and Dara Hrytzak-Lieffers to conclude that building the pipeline "does not make sense from a business perspective," and "cannot be justified on the basis of the economics." But more to the point: "public support for a backbone project does not appear to be justified."
Except that's clearly the direction the Stelmach government appears to be headed and in all likelihood the Backbone Pipeline will end up joining the wrecks from the bad old Peter Lougheed/Don Getty days like NovAtel and the Canadian Commercial Bank.
Which is what the Cameron Strategy poll seems to be already signalling.
Edmonton Sun, Fri June 1 2007, Page 54
Byline: Neil Waugh
Changes to royalty regime could threaten viability of natural gas; Industry appeals for status quo as it struggles with exploding costs
CALGARY - Wholesale changes to Alberta's royalty regime could threaten the viability of natural gas production in the province and raise rates for consumers, industry insiders told the Alberta government's Royalty Review Panel meeting in Calgary Wednesday.
Rising costs, falling prices and an uncertain regulatory environment are already leading to reduced rig counts, lower production and ultimately, lower government revenues, said Tailisman Energy Inc. CEO Jim Buckee.
"You have a zero-per-cent royalty you get zero; with a 100-per-cent royalty you also get zero," Buckee told the province's travelling review panel. "The current regime has worked and is best left alone."
Where previous sessions have focused on the government's share of oilsands revenues, Wednesday's discussions revolved around conventional royalties and how they relate to natural gas.
Buckee argued higher royalties would discourage activity at a time when high costs and falling prices are putting the bite on an already margin-squeezed segment of the oil and gas business.
According to the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC), 107 of 885 rigs were working this week, down from 342 active rigs at this time last year.
Likewise, the number of new well licences issued by the province are off a third from last year.
According to Buckee, declining field activity is a leading indicator of the overall economic viability of natural gas.
Talisman, along with Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and EnCana Corp. earlier this year reigned in gas spending in response to higher costs and lower prices. An additional financial load in the form of higher royalties will inevitably lead to lower drilling, lower production and in turn, lower government royalty payments.
If major oil companies balk at paying higher royalty rates on oilsands projects, then the Alberta government should consider developing the resource itself by working in equity partnerships with more co-operative companies, says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"I think we should learn a lesson from other oil-rich jurisdictions, especially Norway. And that lesson is that if private sector firms aren't willing to develop our resources in the public interest we shouldn't be afraid to do it ourselves. Royalties are one way to guarantee returns for the public, but ownership is another."
McGowan's remarks were made as part of his presentation to the Alberta government's the government panel.
The hearings continue through today.
The head of the Alberta Federation of Labour says TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone pipeline to the United States is a job killer that needs to be stopped.
In a submission to the National Energy Board, labour federation president Gil McGowan said the proposed 3,000-kilometre pipeline to the U.S. Midwest is not in the public interest because it would export refining and upgrading jobs from Canada, where the oil is produced.
"Canadians should be getting the greatest value for their resources," he said.
"The Keystone project falls well short of providing maximum value in the areas of jobs, economic opportunity and long-term economic and energy security."
According to a study by the economic consulting firm Infometrica, the labour federation insists 18,000 jobs would be created in Canada if bitumen was refined in Alberta instead of being shipped to the U.S. on the proposed pipeline.
"If Keystone goes ahead, we will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a broad, healthy, value-added, and research industry centred around a rejuvenated refining industry, McGowan warned.
Instead, "billions of dollars will be spent to retool and renovate current refineries in places such as Illinois and the American Gulf Coast."
If approved, Keystone would transport some 435,000 barrels a day from Hardisty, near Edmonton, to refineries in Illinois.
In February, TransCanada received National Energy Board approval to transfer assets from its main natural gas line to a subsidiary that would operate Keystone.
In December it filed a formal application to build the line and National Energy Board hearings seeking approval to construct and operate the Canadian facilities are scheduled to begin on June 4.
TransCanada spokeswoman Shela Shapiro said the company doesn't comment on intervenor submissions or the regulatory system.
"We're aware they have filed and it's part of the process," she said.
But David MacInnis, head of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said at least 450,000 barrels a day of new pipeline capacity is needed by 2009 to avert slowdowns and job losses in the burgeoning oilsands sector.
TransCanada, along with Enbridge Inc. and Kinder Morgan have put forth proposals to increase oilsands export capacity to the United States.
Although MacInnis wouldn't comment on the merits of any specific proposal, he said CEPA supports "market-backed solutions" to add new pipeline infrastructure and alleviate what he said is a looming capacity shortage.
He further suggested that upgraders planned for the Edmonton area over the next several years are threatened by a lack of skilled labour.
"With all that construction, I don't get the sense anybody is worried about losing jobs. In fact the opposite is true."
He said the labour federation's call for a moratorium on future pipeline construction would threaten oilsands growth and actually cost jobs in the long run.
"The AFL need to look in the mirror," he said.
"The short story is that these oilsands pipes create jobs. If they get their way, they will absolutely devastate the economy.
"There will definitely be shut-ins in production at oilsands plants . . . that's what's going to kill jobs."
Calgary Herald, Tues Apr 17 2007
Byline: Shaun Polczer
In the Old West, calling a man a coward was a shooting matter, and "Mr. Colt" usually had the final word.
It's unlikely, however, Alberta premier Ed Stelmach is toting a six-shooter or that he would even care if Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, would have called him a chicken-livered yellow belly.
Stelmach might pay attention, however, if thousands of Albertans did.
McGowan, who spoke Thursday in Lethbridge at a session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, said Stelmach has lost his nerve and he wants Albertans to help him get it back.
The premier has backed down to big oil companies and is not, despite promises during the leadership race, doing anything about low oilsand royalties, out-of-control development and the shipping of raw bitumen out of the province, he said.
"Based on his performance so far, it seems that our new premier either didn't mean what he said during the leadership race when he promised to turn a page on the Klein era, or that he's lost his nerve," McGowan said.
He said he's prepared to give Stelmach the benefit of the doubt and assume he's lost his nerve. So he's driving a campaign to help the premier get a backbone.
"My goal is not to unfairly criticize the premier or to paint him as some kind of villain. Instead, my goal is to convince Ed that his initial instincts were correct and that he shouldn't backslide on the promises he made during the leadership campaign."
And if enough Albertans speak out, McGowan believes Stelmach will realize maintaining or only tweaking the status quo of the Klein era is not acceptable.
McGowan pointed out during the leadership race Stelmach said the one-cent-on-the-dollar royalty introduced and maintained by former premier Ralph Klein is too low and needs to be increased.
Stelmach also said it's not in the public's interest to let energy companies ship vast amounts of raw oilsands bitumen out of the province without refining or upgrading it, and he promised to do something about skyrocketing house prices and the rapidly rising cost of living.
"Those were the positions taken by candidate Stelmach, but it's amazing what a difference a few weeks can make. Today, the messages emanating from the premier's office sound a lot different from the ones that we heard . . . on the campaign trail."
McGowan said Albertans should be angry oil companies only pay one cent on the dollar for the right to exploit Alberta's resources, especially when the rate was designed to encourage investment when oil was selling for only $15 barrel.
"You should be mad because energy companies raked in more than $15 billion in oilsands revenue last year, but paid only about $700 million in royalties; less than the province collected from gambling.
"You should be mad because all that revenue that we've forgone as a result of the one-penny royalty could have been used to strengthen our health-care system, fix our crumbling infrastructure and to educate our children and grandchildren."
In addition, McGowan said Albertans should be angry because Canada's two biggest pipeline companies are raising billions of dollars to build huge pipelines with only one purpose; to take unrefined bituman from Alberta for processing south of the border. That means thousands of potential refining jobs will follow the pipeline into the U.S. And the jobs that are being created are given to temporary foreign workers who, in turn, are being used as pawns to lower wages and as an excuse not to train workers at home.
McGowan said Albertans need to tell Stelmach to do five things: block construction of the bitumen pipeline; guarantee a fair return for oil resources by scrapping the one-cent royalty; introduce leases for oilsands properties that require energy companies to create jobs in Alberta; tighten rules for temporary foreign workers; and to regulate the pace of oilsands development so there is more time to address the economic and environmental implications of development.
Lethbridge Herald, Feb 9 2007
Byline: Delon Shurtz
Albertans deserve a larger return on their vast oilsands, a provincial committee seeking input on how to best develop the resource heard Wednesday.
The Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development argued that it's time for the province to revamp its royalty rates for oilsands even though oil companies warn changes could mean that Alberta could lose out on projects.
"Government leaders need to take a long-term approach to resource development and recognize that despite threats to reduce investments in the oilsands if fiscal policies are changed they are unlikely to walk away from the second largest oil deposit in the world," said Pembina spokeswoman Amy Taylor at the first day of hearings in Calgary.
The 19-member committee has been travelling the province to hear from Albertans on oilsands development. The hearing continues today at MacEwan Conference Centre at the University of Calgary before heading to northern communities next week.
A report on the panel's findings is expected in November.
The institute is advocating an immediate increase in royalty rates for new oilsands projects and a phase-in for existing ones. Currently operators pay one per cent of gross revenues until capital costs and a return allowance are recovered, after which the rate jumps to 25 per cent.
Originally designed to spur oilsands investment, Taylor said the royalty program should be reviewed with public input considering the level of investment currently being poured into the projects in Northern Alberta, where production is slated to triple to three million barrels a day by 2015.
"Oilsands are no longer considered a marginal resource," she said.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, likened the oilsands royalty regime to "putting the economy on steroids."
He said the province will continue to lose out on revenue as project costs continue to soar due to high demand for labour and equipment.
"The more expensive a project gets the longer we have to forego revenues," he said.
Other speakers who registered for a 15-minute opportunity to address the community said the government should slow development to curb the growth of carbon dioxide emissions and other negative environmental impacts.
Industry representatives also raised the point that the province must invest in the communities to help support the growth in the oilsands industry. Bill Clapperton, a vice-president with Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., said oilsands operators do their part by providing revenue through royalties and taxes as well as more jobs for the economy.
"The needs for infrastructure in the municipality are urgent in municipality of Wood Buffalo and Canadian Natural believes the government must maintain their traditional as helper and operator of public infrastructure," he said.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Sept 28 2006
Byline: Lisa Schmidt